Christians and Hospice Ministry

If you see my right arm you’ll notice pretty quickly a tattoo. My tattoo says, very simply, “Imago Dei”. Imago Dei is Latin for “the image of God” and is typically used to express the Biblical fact that every single human being who was or ever will be created is created in the image of God and therefore their life is dignified. 
This tattoo has a unique meaning to me nowadays though. I’m twenty-five years old and have worked for two separate hospices in North Carolina. Having worked in Hospice, even though just at a support level, has given me a new understanding of the importance of recognizing the Imago Dei of everybody. 
You see, hospices exist to give everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, the care and treatment to die peacefully. Nurses work endlessly to alleviate the pain of the patient and to make sure that the family is taken care of. I interact with countless people daily who tell me how thankful they are for hospice because their family member lived their last days to the fullest extent and they died respectfully. 
We live in a world absolutely veiled by discrimination because of the fall and it is saddening. But visit, or better yet volunteer at, your local hospice and you’ll see a glimpse of the depth of the Imago Dei. 
There is a sweet sense of peace working in a field where you’re making lasting impressions on entire families. Hospice allows me to take the Gospel, Jesus being the remedy for sin-ridden mankind, and share it in practical ways with hurting families. At some point we all have to face the pains of death. Death sucks. The effects of sin suck, but the Gospel heals. 
I want to end this post by encouraging you to talk to your local hospice about volunteering. If you’re a pastor, consider leading your congregation to partnering with hospice. Through hospice you’ll have countless opportunities to magnify Christ. Hospice is much more than end of life care. It is changing lives and impacting the community one life at a time, and in my case, it is fueled by a love for the Gospel and a command of Jesus to make disciples. That starts by ministering to broken people in a broken world in a time when they desperately need the loving comfort of the God who created them. 

Here We Have No Lasting City

I can say for sure, I am no fan of our President. I have not heard one policy of his that I can support or get behind. I find him to be reactionary, divorced from reality, and pompous. I find him to say one thing, walk it back, and then double down on the original statement. I believe he has emboldened white supremacists to come to the forefront. I believe many Christians have “baptized” him and his decisions so that, as he said, he could “shoot someone on 5th Ave and wouldn’t lose supporters.” And it is hard.

It is hard because the same brothers and sisters who said that we should “Give him a chance?” will not say “he’s wrong”. Those dear friends who sit opposite me on this issue were furious about President Obama’s golfing habit, but have ignored President Trump’s. They decried executive orders as tyranny, but give President Trump a pass. They accused for years that President Obama was a Muslim, though Trump has not attended a worship service in some time and has even said he doesn’t need forgiveness. The inconsistency is hard. It’s hard because it looks like they’ve traded promise for power, justice for Justices, and sanity for soup.

Its hard because I have to remind myself that my dear, blood bought brothers and sisters are made in the image of God. Like our President.

It is hard to remind myself that no one rises to power and authority outside of God’s sovereign hand, though I know it to be true. It is hard because I cannot understand how someone who rises to power on falsehoods and vitriol is God’s decision. I struggle because I think, “Surely, there is a better way isn’t there? What is going on?” And I’ve come to one conclusion.

I don’t know.

I know, dear reader that this isn’t helpful. To share in my confusion doesn’t help at all. It won’t move the ball downfield.

But let us not act as if we are a people without our hope. Because that is the place that I’ve been. I have, this week, been in a place where I wanted to throw my hands up and say “I quit”. But quitting doesn’t love our neighbor. Being silent ensures that the only voices are those who use the ends to justify means.

I have found for myself two truths that steel my soul. Three firm foundations that  are a comfort for me.

1. God is Sovereign

i. God from all eternity did, by the most wise (Rom. 11:33) and holy counsel of His own will, freely (Rom. 9:15, 18), and unchangeably (Heb. 6:17) ordain whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11): yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin (James 1:13, 17; 1 John 1:5), nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (Matt. 17:12; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28); nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (John 19:11; Prov. 16:33).

God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. (WCF 3:1&5:1)

This is difficult because the implication is hard. Why God has caused or allowed this to happen is something I neither like nor understand. But we are not called to understand, though we are called to trust Him. Because His faithfulness to His Church has never waned, never faded, we do not have to doubt but joyfully cling to Him. Because we affirm the hymn “Whatere My God Ordains Is Right”, we can hope in Him. Because all Presidents and kings are God’s and are under His authority, we don’t have to fear. Because whatever they do, good or wicked, occurs with God accomplishing His decrees, we can trust Him.

2. America is not the Kingdom.

This is a great relief, because as Preston Sprinkle writes in his book Fight “America could burn tomorrow and the Kingdom never be threatened” Throughout all of time, Kingdoms have risen and fallen. They have grown to the heights and been brought down in the lows. And the Church remains.

Christ has declared that this kingdom is “not of this world” and in this Kingdom everything is upside down. In this Kingdom victory is won by death. In this Kingdom, the heroes are those who’ve walked humbly. In this Kingdom, everything that is sad is becoming untrue and we will beat our swords into pruning hooks. This is the better Kingdom, the eternal Kingdom. we are seeking a better country, for here we have no lasting city. Our citizenship is not America, we are not Americans first. We are Kingdom citizens above all else. Here we are only sojourners.

Throughout Scripture, God promises to care for the oppressed, the widow and the fatherless. He will not forsake us, His people, His Church

The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD! – Psalm 146:9-10

So as Kingdom citizens, we live quiet lives. We obey the laws, we speak with grace to all people, so that may see our Kingdom. We care for the oppressed and marginalized. We have balanced scales and call sin sin. We reject power, position, and prestige for something far more better: a Kingdom that cannot be shaken and that will trump all Trumps.

Yes for many of us, it is the dark night of the soul, but dawn will come. The sun will come back. After darkness, light.

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Don Quixotes and Theological Windmills

Don quixote

“If you’re not teaching you’re(sic) people about the dangers of charismaticism then you have no qualifications to be a pastor” the brash, overzealous, pompous Student of THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary told me.

Understand this was at the outset of the MacArthur Strange Fire phase and so it was popular to rant and rave on the subject because it was the most important thing facing everybody’s church.

Except the people I worshipped with weren’t dealing with the charismatic question. They were dealing with the loss of jobs, of family members, of life. They were just trying to live their lives in light of God’s covenant promises. I have a great mentor who taught me a great lesson “Don’t go introducing heresy by attacking it.” It’s so simple.

I will say clearly I am a strong cessationist. I think Reformed Charismatic is right up there with Jumbo Shrimp and Pretty Ugly. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Just because you take monergistic soteriology and slap it onto Charismatic ideology doesn’t make it Reformed. Now, I have brothers and sisters who I love who hold to a different view. But that’s ok. And here’s why this tiny, open handed doctrine really isn’t worth fighting about.

It’s not the Gospel.

But alas, I can find folks on both sides of the issue blasting away at each other, tilting at windmills, and spilling digital ink because THIS is the line. THIS is where we should swing it out.

Trust me, not everything needs a blog post written by a seminarian. Yes, we as Christians should firmly know what we believe and why we believe it. This is not a statement of me throwing my hands up and saying “uh I don’t know anything about spiritual gifts but what the Westminster says”.

But we do our people a massive disservice to think that every little theological fight needs to have civilians in it. That only makes more casualties. This is why (and Mercy help us) public social media isn’t the place for theological pugalism. When my Anglican friends do something that’s profoundly Anglican on social media, the Reformed come out and swing. It’s fight time.

But it’s really not. They’re shocked that an Anglican would act like (and brace yourself, cause this might be confusing) an Anglican. He’s not bothering anybody. He’s not forcing anyone to worship his way (like a Covenanter). But the dogpile commences because young Reformed men don’t have a real fight. And instead of just being quiet we have to go tilt at windmills and look like fools.

My point: maybe we just all need a little grace. Maybe we should expect people to act within their nature. And maybe the mountains that the Theological Windmills are placed on, are really just molehills that we shouldn’t tilt at.

 

When I Don’t Feel Saved

The last two months have been a trying time for our family. Two months ago, we left a city, a church, our home and friends behind to move to Northwest Arkansas for my job. My wife has been so strong in all of this- she has never moved before. And so uprooting our lives for a place we’ve never been has been hard. We have found a new living places, a new church, and are finding new friends. But the pain is there. And she has been so patient with me not reacting or acting graciously toward her. So loving when I’m tired and I’m not pouring into her. She is, and has always been a great fountain of grace and helpfulness. My helpmeet, my ezer kenegdo.

If nothing else, these changes have made me more aware of my own sin and faults. I am constantly battling impatientce and pride, arrogance, and even doubt. The stress has caused me to sin, not in major disqualifying ways. But small ways. The ways that creep up on you. For the last few nights I have laid awake, tormented by my shortcomings, my faults, my failures. And though try as I might to preach the Gospel to myself through the Word, and to savor Christ in His sacraments each week, if I’m honest there are nights that the question taunts me:

“Does God really love me? Am I really saved?”

It’s a daunting feeling, one of hopelessness and grief. To have your sins all borne in front of you, condemning you to your face. And at the end of the day, I have no defense. I am a sinner. I am angry. I am cutoff and impatient. I am greedy and covetous. I am a guilty man. I have no where to turn but to Christ, and when I turn there I feel at times as though I have been rejected. My heart condemns me, and I don’t feel saved.

But God’s faithfulness to me isn’t based on my feelings; but rather on Christ.

“for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” – 1 John 3:20

I know that I am a sinner, and in that I’m comforted because Christ died for sinnners. That means Christ died for me! That he has ransomed and redeemed me. That in my doubt my only comfort is that I am not my own. But have a faithful Savior who has fully satisfied for all my sins. And that faithful Savior doesn’t abandon me, but rather is, now in my tossing and turning, interceding on my behalf.

And beause I not my own, I have no need to fear that Christ will abandon me. Not because of my work, those feeble attempts of appeasement. But because of a His work. Because Christ has stood in my guilty place I can, by faith, stand in His righteous place. That’s the greatness of the Great Exchange. Christ takes our sins, yes and amen. But we also get His ridghteousness. So that when God sees me, the doubting sinner, he rather sees Christ. I’m counted as a son.

And if Christ will not abandon me, then I can run to Him again. I can flee with my doubts and my sins and say “You’re it! You’re my only comfort, my only hope. I have no where else to turn.” And he promises that those who come will not be cast out (John 6:37). He promised to raise those who believe in Him up on the Last Day (John 6:40). And because He has been raised, I can look to Him by faith, and latch on again to find rest for my doubts.

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When Traditional Values Create Toxic Churches

*Contains References to Domestic Violence & Rape*
Christianity cannot be rightly categorised as either inherently progressive or inherently traditional. There IS, however, Biblical overlap with both progressive and traditional ideals. For example, like the Bible, traditional cultures place high value on the family unit, while progressive cultures, like the Bible, affirm the intrinsic dignity of all people. It is likewise possible to wrongly assimilate as “Christian” either traditional or progressive cultural values that are in actuality antithetical to Christianity (like the traditional belief that women are property of their husbands or the progressive belief that being true to yourself is the highest goal). To give proper credit: I was introduced to this way of comparing and contrasting various cultures with Christian teachings a couple years ago in several Tim Keller sermons. I’ve found it very helpful.

In my experience, theologically-conservative Protestants tend to focus almost exclusively on ways churches can err in adopting certain aspects of progressive ideology; one might call this the “left boundaries” of Christianity, and it is important! But I contend that of equal importance is to recognize ways that Christians or churches err when they incorrectly adopt certain traditional ideologies as in line with Biblical truth; these could be called the “right boundaries” of Christianity.

This post will focus on instances when those right boundaries have been crossed. I’ve observed that these errors most often to relate to authority, sexuality, gender roles, and politics.

One final note: all of the following warning signs are based on real-life situations in theologically-conservative Protestant churches (and most involving well-known, well-respected pastors). These are things that have been actually said! Actions that have actually been taken! This isn’t hypothetical; these are real issues affecting churches today. 

So without further ado,

A Pastor or Church Might be Toxic if…

  •  The pastor teaches or implies that all Christian parents–if they want to be truly godly–must homeschool their children.
  • Church leaders silence all criticism as “gossip” or “lack of submission.”
  • Churches shun former members.
  • The pastor never apologizes.
  • Church leaders speak of certain political candidates as having the potential to “bring our country back to God.”
  • The pastor boasts that his wife has never refused him sex.
  • A pastor believes it is permissible–even godly–for husbands to discipline their wives with spankings if they fail to perform tasks (such as washing the dishes) in the way their husbands prescribe.
  • The church strips couples of small group leadership when the wife works full-time and/or the husband stays home with the kids.
  • When wives bring allegations of rape, abuse, or adultery regarding their husbands, church leaders respond with dismissiveness or even blaming.
  • A pastor believes that marriage cures pedophilia.
  • Church leaders fail to report the crime of child abuse to the police and then discipline church members who DO report child abuse to the police.
  • Church leaders believe that minors can be partially responsible for being sexually abused.
  • A pastor teaches that oral sex may be the best evangelism tool to convert a non-Christian husband.
  • Church leaders urge blind trust in the leadership, instructing congregants not to read blogs that detail alleged abuses perpetrated by the church.

So there you have it! A dozen or so instances of unbiblical, unhealthy, and toxic church beliefs or practices! My purpose is not to hate on the church. Rather, I urge discernment in recognizing unhealthy patterns in our churches for the sake of the peace and purity of the church; for the sake of the health of its members; and for the sake of its witness to those who embrace other belief systems. I hope that I have also made an introductory case for the idea that traditional cultural ideas (not just progressive ones) can be anti-Christian. Note, however, that “patterns” is the key thing to watch for; having one or two of these characteristics does not necessarily make a church toxic.

So in summary: the church is meant to be a beautiful display of Christ, and it is tragic when it falls short of this beauty–yes, when it embraces untrue aspects of progressivism, but likewise when it accepts faulty facets of traditional culture.

– Hannah Conroy
(The views expressed are the author’s and may not reflect the views of other blog contributors.)

Insomnia and the Imago Dei

“_______ is made in the image of God”

It’s something I tweet all the time. It’s my subtle reminder, to myself mostly, that the people we talk about- regardless of their denomination, political affiliation, sexual orientation, race, or social standing are at the end of the day people. That, like me, they grow tired. They are also battling insomnia. They also have families and desires and needs. They are also sinners who also have a need for a Savior.

A common theme I keep hearing is how we are so polar in America. We’ve let everything divide us. This is usually spoken in reference to either race or politics. That the line is now drawn and you’re either Left or Right, white or black. And everyone’s trying to figure where did we all go wrong? When did we become so divided?

Truth is: it’s always been this way. We’re just exposed to it more. Social media has aided this process quite well. As a society we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. But we’re no more closer than we’ve been since Eden.

And trust me, I’m the most guilty. I struggle remembering that my so called “enemies” (that is people who don’t agree with me) are fallen image bearers probably more than anyone. It’s easy to. Because we’re more connected than we’ve ever been and I can find SOMEBODY who will at least agree with me in this important point I’m making in the moment. We’re so polar.

We’re polar because we’ve made opinions our identity. And anyone’s alternative opinion or different view isn’t just a disagreement. It’s an attack on our identity. On MY imago Dei.

Truth is: we’re never going to stop being polar until we start looking at “the other side” of whatever divide we’ve invented as image bearers. As people, not just opinions. As sinners in need of much grace, instead of my enemies.

So yes dear Christian, whatever war we’re longing to fight or hill we’re ready to die on- that person on the other side is also made in the image of God. Just like you. No different than you or me.

The Hope Of Believers In Death

The first question of the New City Catechism states: “What is our only hope in life and death? That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our savior Jesus Christ.”

What a great hope! But what is that hope rooted in? What is it’s basis? It’s rooted in the resurrection of Christ! In 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul pens fifty-eight verses explaining and applying the resurrection of Christ. I want to point out three things that I see in these fifty-eight verses that speak to the hope that we have in both our own death and the death of a loved one, if they are a believer. 

First, the Gospel is verified in and by the resurrection of Christ. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (15:22). The Gospel is about bringing dead people to life. When you were dead in your sins (Ephesians 2:1) the Holy Spirit convicted you of your sins, gave you faith and regenerated your heart. You needed a Savior because Adam sinned and plunged all of creation into sin; Jesus is that Savior! But how does this verify the Gospel, you might ask? Because without the resurrection Jesus Christ saves us no more than having a life jacket on next to you saves you from drowning. We can tell people all day long that Christ died for their sins, but if we don’t tell them that Christ rose from the grave it means absolutely nothing! 

Second, the resurrection promises us a new, glorified body. Our bodies are ravished by the effects of sin. Sickness and death are two inescapable effects of Adam’s sin. Our bodies deteriorate, and eventually decompose into the dust from which they came, but not our new glorified body. Our glorified body, free from sin and it’s effects, is not an earthly body but a heavenly one. Paul writes in 15:44 “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Our new body is “raised in glory” (15:43), just like Jesus. 

Lastly, in the resurrection sin has lost its sting. What does Paul mean by “sting”? 15:56 sheds some light for us. According to Paul the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin (or maybe another way of saying it is “the fuel of sin”) is the Law. The Law of God does not save, rather it condemns. Two observations concerning the Law: 1) The Law is a mirror, revealing our sin to us (Romans 7:7-12). 2) Bondage to the Law “arouses” sinful passions within us. Why is it that when you put a sign up that says “Do Not Touch” we are always tempted to touch it? Because in our sinful and fallen nature we eagerly do contrary to what is commanded. The same is true with going against and breaking God’s Law. As unregenerate people, when we see the Law of God our instinct is to either rely upon it to save us or push against it in utter rebellion. The Law fuels our sinfulness, not because the Law is evil, but because it calls us to a holy life that sinners aren’t interested in living. 

Back to determining what Paul meant by “sting”! He says that the sting of death is sin, but death has now lost its sting (i.e. sin). In the resurrection of Christ, Christ has set us free from sin. Sin no longer has a grasp on those who have turned and repented of their sins. 

In conclusion I want to tie this into the hope that believers have in both their death and the death of loved ones who have professed genuine faith in Christ. Death is not easy to grasp, but the Gospel provides a handrail for us to hold on to. When believers die, they don’t go to hell or purgatory to pay for their sins– Christ paid for their sins already! Rather, they obtain their glorified body. In the death of a believer, sin’s last finger tip slips off of the person. No longer are they affected by the fall. There’s no more weeping, heartache, sickness, or decay. There’s only joyous praise in the realization and collection of their promised reward– Jesus! 
If you are grieving the loss of someone close to you, and they believed in Christ, rest assured in the words of Paul “God, who gives us the victory through Christ”. Christ has obtained the Salvation of all those that the Father commands, and the Spirit seals all those that Jesus purchased redemption for. There is hope, a sweet and joyous hope, and His name is Jesus!